You smell smoke in your workplace. Is something on fire? You go to investigate and discover a wastebasket in flames. After alerting your coworkers to the fire and directing someone to call 911, you sprint to the nearest fire extinguisher.

Fire extinguishers may seem easy to use, but it’s not as simple as it looks—and no one should use one without the proper training.

As the wastebasket fire grows, now is certainly not the time to bring out that instruction manual. Being prepared to act quickly could be the difference between a small incident and one that threatens people’s lives, safety, or the building itself.

What employees need to know about fire extinguishers

Not all fire extinguishers are the same. Each one has a label indicating the type of fire it’s to be used for.

Under a standardized letter coding system, most fires fall into the A, B, or C category. If your fire extinguisher is rated for all three, the label will have all three letters. The D and K categories are for more specialized situations.

What employees need to do in the event of a fire emergency

If there is a fire at your workplace, you will need to follow the procedures contained in your company’s Emergency Action Plan. Some general steps your employees should follow include:

  • Call 911 immediately when an alarm sounds or fire is detected.
  • Closely listen to the operator’s instructions.
  • Alert others to begin evacuating the building.
  • Close all doors as you exit. This limits the smoke and fire from spreading.
  • Remember to never use elevators if you are evacuating from an upper floor. The elevator could fail and trap you inside.
  • Seek refuge at your employers mustering station as soon as you evacuate the building so that you can be accounted for.

Those trained to combat a fire need to assess the situation immediately and see if the fire should be fought with an extinguisher. If a fire becomes too large or the environment becomes too dangerous, everyone—including those trained on how to use a fire extinguisher—need to evacuate the area as outlined above.

At your safety meeting: the fire extinguisher “P.A.S.S. word” that can’t be a secret

When training your employees on how to use a fire extinguisher, have them follow the four steps contained in the P.A.S.S. method:

  • Pull the pin.
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire. This is important because hitting the top of the flame with the extinguisher powder won’t be effective on the fire and could cause it to spread. You need to smother the fire at its base.
  • Squeeze the lever above the handle firmly to discharge the extinguishing agent.
  • Sweep the hose from side to side until the fire is extinguished. Keep aiming at the base until the fire is extinguished or when the extinguishing agent/powder is depleted. Most extinguishers will give you 15-to-20 seconds of discharge time.

Take the time during your meeting to review your response plan. Make sure everyone knows the evacuation route, and where to meet up after leaving the building.

As an employer, you need to make sure your fire extinguishers are inspected, maintained, and tested. Regulations call for you to conduct a visual monthly inspection of each fire extinguisher at your business. A more thorough annual inspection—conducted by a certified professional—is also required. An online search can put you in touch with companies that offer this service. Employers also record the annual maintenance date and keep it for either one full year or for the life of the extinguisher, whichever is less.

The proper use of a portable fire extinguisher can help save your business, but more importantly, can also save lives. Knowing what actions to take immediately will increase the chances that your employees will remain safe and minimize the damage to your facility.



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The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

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